For small businesses, every day should be labor ‘appreciation’ day

By Rhonda Abrams

For the smartest small business owners, every day is Labor Day. No, every day is not a day off with last-of-summer barbecues and beach trips.
But small businesses — far more than huge corporations — recognize that our employees shape our success. Day after day, they’re the ones who serve our customers, make our products, send out our invoices. When we honor our labor, we help grow our businesses.

Large corporations may talk about their employees being their “team.” In small businesses, they’re our family. Just as the surest way to make a family successful is to respect every member, the best way to make a business successful is to respect everyone, especially employees.

I’m always surprised when I encounter a small business owner who views having employees as a necessary evil to be endured rather than a resource to be developed. If you waste the intelligence, energy, or skills of employees, it’s just like throwing money out the window.

Your attitude towards the people you hire goes a long way in determining their attitude about the job and your business. If you want them to be dedicated to their work, willing to go the extra mile, you have to be committed to them as well.

How can you get the most from your labor?

•Hire Well: You need the most qualified person you can for every position. If an employee is smart and capable, even for a job in the mailroom, they’ll help your business grow. Hire for attitude and adaptability, rather than merely for specific skills. Look for the ability to learn quickly, common sense, good work habits, a willingness to take on any job.

•Train: It’s hard to take time away from your own work to train someone else, but you’ll save far more time in the long run. If necessary, train after regular work hours, when you can give the new employee your undivided attention. In a small business, employees should be able to pitch in on just about any job, so don’t just train for specific tasks, instead teach them about the whole business and emphasize problem solving.

•Communicate: Perhaps the biggest mistake companies make is the failure to share information. Have short, frequent meetings, maybe only ten minutes at the beginning of the day and share both bad and good news. Employees feel included and empowered when they know what’s going on.

•Motivate: Three men are working in a rock quarry. A passerby asks each of them what they’re doing. The first one stops and grunts: “Digging up stones.” The second one stops and says, “Feeding my family.” The third one continues working and replies, “Building a cathedral.” People who share a common vision work harder. Share your vision and enthusiasm.

•Empower: Give your employees the ability to make certain decisions. Nothing is worse for morale, or for the bottom line, than an employee who is only allowed to follow narrow rules. Most employees will learn how to do their job better than you can teach them. Let them use their brains, not just their backs.

•Evaluate: You can’t expect employees to improve if you don’t give them constructive, regular feedback. Employees are better able to meet your needs if you let them know when they do well and how they could have done better. Give specific suggestions, don’t just complain.

•Acknowledge: The least productive sentence an employer can use is “I don’t need to thank employees; they get paid.” We all need to be thanked and recognized. Find opportunities to get the staff together to acknowledge jobs well done. Give small acknowledgments: plaques, certificates, T-shirts to recognize even small achievements.

•Reward: Pay people decently, reward them when you’re successful, and give them as much sense of security as you can. Employees don’t work well when they’re worried about how they’ll pay the rent or whether they’ll have a job next month. Job security, good pay, and decent benefits help make a much more productive staff.

In a small company, every day is Labor Day. It’s important to make every employee feel valued, included, and respected. If you help your employees grow, they’ll help your business grow.

Rhonda Abrams is president of The Planning Shop, publisher of books for entrepreneurs. Her newest book is Hire Your First Employee: the entrepreneur’s guide to finding, choosing, and leading great people. Register for Rhonda’s free business tips at For an index of her columns, click here. Twitter: Copyright Rhonda Abrams 2010.